WASHOUGAL — In the lowlands and spacious prairie next to the Columbia River sits the Two Rivers Heritage Museum, an unassuming treasure trove that displays the history of eastern Clark County.
The seemingly small building becomes expansive as soon as visitors pass through the front door. Framed news clippings and photos cover most of the interior walls. Its various rooms hold family and property records, instruments, mining and logging relics, pioneer kitchenware and military items.
There’s even a letter that astronaut Michael Reed Barratt carried into the cosmic realm and back down to Earth.
Every item in the museum has a unique story and connection to the Chinook people, settlers and current residents of Camas and Washougal.
Couple Jim Cobb, the Camas Washougal Historical Society president, and volunteer coordinator Lois Cobb view the collection as a passion project to preserve and display the rich history of the area.
“We are a heritage museum, which means we are a museum of people,” Lois Cobb said.
All the museum’s items and archival information were provided by community members, and they reflect both the fascinating and the ordinary aspects of the lives lived in eastern Clark County.
Community members come to the museum, located at 1 Durgan St. in Washougal, to learn more about their ancestry and homes — or just to look at vintage photographs.
The organization’s volunteers are in the process of digitizing its collection, which highlights life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“We’d like to consider ourselves more in the line of caretakers (of history) than we do as working volunteers,” Jim Cobb said.
To improve the museum’s storytelling capabilities in combination with its displays, the historical society has dedicated funds to create spaces honoring Indigenous culture in the area. Most notable, Jim Cobb said, was the construction of the Gathering Place at Washuxwal, a long structure featuring wood carvings that commemorate local tribes and their stories.
Future plans include hosting educational presentations in its pavilion to share stories and enlighten visitors on the first inhabitants of the area.
A fiery beginning
The Camas Washougal Historical Society formed in 1978 to protect a historic building in Parkers Landing, which soon succumbed to an arsonist’s flame that nearly destroyed many of the artifacts inside. Group members salvaged what they could, be it bricks or tools.
In 1981, the historical society’s first museum was in the basement of a local library that quickly filled with items donated by residents across Clark County. The surplus of artifacts led to the need for a bigger space, which led to the organization moving into a building that would safely hold the area’s history.
The museum, which operates solely from fundraising and tourism, halted its general admissions during the pandemic and spent the time updating its existing displays. A team of guides is still available to provide tours to groups of eight or more from Mondays through Saturdays. Group tours can be arranged by calling 360-835-5449.
Tours cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for students. General admission will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays from March through October. More information about the museum’s hours, events and membership opportunities can be found at www.2rhm.com.
“I wish our local residents here would take the time to come to our museum,” Lois Cobb said. “We’re practically unknown to the people who live here. It looks like a tiny building, but it really isn’t.”